On the Pleasures of Miles (Part 1)


So, a cursory glance at my bookshelf reveals a surprising number of titles that contain the word “God.” There’s Matthew Alper’s The God Part of the Brain; Karen Armstrong’s A History of God and The Battle for God; Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great; Jack Miles’ God: A Biography; Robert Winston’s The Story of God; and Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God.

To date, I’ve read 3.5 of the 7.0 books mentioned above (both Armstrong books and the Miles book, and a bit of the Hitchens book) and I’m perpetually on the lookout for the minor miracle that will grant me the time to read the remaining 3.5. Five of the titles (Alper’s, Armstrong’s, Miles’ and Winston’s) were acquired at a single purchase—at the point in my life when I finally accepted the fact that I tended to be happiest when engaging in unprofitable pursuits (like the study of philosophy and religion); one was acquired fairly recently (Wright’s); and the last was given to me as some sort of perpetual loan (Hitchens’—a book so stridently monolithic in its views that it’s almost embarrassing to read it).

Apart from Hitchens’ work, the other books I’ve read were thoroughly enjoyable. Ms. Armstrong’s work deserves a separate blog post—maybe even several—given how largely she eventually influenced the direction of my life. (I have possibly every single one of her titles, and her books Islam: A Short History and  Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet are must-reads for anyone remotely concerned about that religion in today’s socio-political climate.) 

For sheer novelty of insight, however, I’d have to credit Mr. Miles. A former Jesuit (surprise, surprise) with a Harvard doctorate degree in Near Eastern languages (his credentials just get better and better the farther you read into the sentence), his book God: A Biography won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1996. The question behind his book is astoundingly original: if one were to think of God as a literary character—the major character in the Bible, actually—what insights would this kind of reading yield, not just about God, but about the religions that revere that Bible (Judaism and Christianity) and the people that adhere to these religions? It’s been seven years since I read his book, and I still marvel at the seismic shift it triggered in my views about my religion. (The tenth chapter which deals with the character of God in the book of Job is especially provocative.)

Now if only I could find the time to read his second book, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God.

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